workplace

California’s Inmate Population is Housed Less Humanely than its Chickens.

via Getty Images

via Getty Images

 

Since January 1 of this year, California’s Proposition 2 has required all eggs sold in the state to come from chickens that live in more spacious quarters.
Any producer, whether in-state or out-, that wants to sell eggs in California has to raise its laying hens in enclosures large enough to allow the birds to freely stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs and wings.

California consumes more eggs than any other state.
It’s a large producer but still imports more out-of-state eggs than any other state, so the Prop 2 regulations effectively created a new national standard. Six of the big midwestern egg-producing states tried to invalidate the new rules and charged California with restraint of interstate trade. At this point most of the lawsuits and appeals have been dismissed, and producers are either conforming to the standards or selling their eggs elsewhere. In the meantime, the attention drawn to the issue has prompted some major egg buyers like Burger King and Starbucks to go beyond the requirements by vowing to switch to eggs from completely uncaged hens.

It’s more than a little hypocritical.
Chickens and inmates are both key to the California’s egg production, with prisoners processing around 35 million eggs a year from inmate-raised hens. Like its chickens, the state’s inmates live in confinement that can be inconsistent with acceptable standards of health and welfare. While we applaud the passage of Proposition 2 for improving housing standards for chickens, it also serves to highlight the inadequate and even inhumane housing of prisoners.

It was no small task for California to reimagine henhouses.
It involved input from architects and engineers, environmental scientists, climatologists, agronomists, and poultry specialists. They ran simulations and field trials evaluating chicken behavior, psychology, and physiology, ultimately increasing the minimum amount of space per chicken by 73%.

Clearly, laying hens have the full attention of regulators. Less so for the prisoners who tend to the chickens.
Their right to humane treatment is constitutionally protected, but relying on the old chestnut of cruel and unusual leaves a lot of wiggle room for pretty deplorable conditions. Currently, a prison cell can truly be smaller, relative to an inmate’s size, than a laying hen’s cage, relative to a chicken’s size.

You might be wondering why inmates are raising chickens in the first place.
Forget about license plates; prison labor has been used to make everything from IKEA furniture to Victoria’s Secret lingerie, and is especially welcomed in agriculture and food processing, including upscale and artisan food production. Inmates have packed bags of Starbucks coffee beans, and grown chardonnay grapes for award-winning wine bottlers. They’ve produced raw milk goat cheeses for high-end cheese shops, and raised the tilapia sold at Whole Foods Markets.

Correctional institutions and their corporate partners are fond of these arrangements. Depending on the circuit in which an inmate is incarcerated, the worker may or may not be subject to protection under the Civil Rights Act, and businesses can pay pennies on the dollar of prevailing wages. Whether you believe, as the courts do, that this is part of the penalty that criminals pay for their offenses against society, or you see this as codified exploitation and discrimination by an unjust prison system, the irony of inmates liberating their post-Prop 2 chickens is undeniable.

Litigation, advocacy, and public education worked wonders for California’s chickens.
Let’s see what they can do for another group of the state’s confined residents.

 

Posted in agriculture, food policy, workplace | Leave a comment

The Coffee Break- A Vaunted Worker Tradition

coffee cup cozy available at Handmade Coffee's Etsy store

coffee cup cozy available at Handmade Coffee’s Etsy store

 

The lunch break has all but disappeared under a mountain of emails, but the coffee break seems inviolable.
It’s a highlight of the workday, the favorite employee benefit even at perk-heavy companies like Google with their ping pong tables and free haircuts. The Department of Labor even gives it special status—lunchtime can be off the books but coffee breaks have to be paid.

Some of us need more coffee than others.
Every year Dunkin’ Donuts teams up with CareerBuilder to survey Americans about their workplace coffee habits. The most recent survey ranked the top 10 heaviest coffee drinking professions:

  1. food prep and food service workers
  2. scientists and lab technicians
  3. sales reps
  4. marketing and PR professionals
  5. nurses
  6. writers and editors
  7. business and finance executives
  8. K-12 teachers
  9. engineers
  10. IT managers and network administrators

Even if your profession didn’t make the top 10 you’re probably drinking coffee on the job. Optimize the habit with these apps for coffee breakers:

coffee-break-app

Caffeine Tracker monitors the body’s metabolization of caffeine. Just provide a few body specs and record your consumption and it displays the current level of caffeine in your bloodstream in a color-coded pie chart.

Are you the one making the Starbucks run? Skip the post-its and keep all the no-foams and half-cafs straight with Coffee Order.

Up Coffee correlates your coffee drinking with your sleep patterns. Give it a few days of your habits and it can tell you how long you’ll feel wired from that last cup and when to cut off the caffeine so that you can get a good night’s sleep.

Take a real break with the Coffee Break AppIt darkens your computer screen for a pre-determined duration, guaranteeing the pleasures of a work-free cup.

 

 

Posted in coffee, phone applications, workplace | Leave a comment

Where Does Your Milk Come From? Learn how to read the carton code.

 

image via whereismymilkfrom.com

image via whereismymilkfrom.com

 

There are dairy farms in all 50 states, but that doesn’t mean the milk in your refrigerator came from anywhere nearby.

Trace your milk with Where is My Milk From? 
The website decodes the numbers stamped on your milk packaging and identifies its source based on the FDA system known as FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards). To find the FIPS number, look for the string of numbers near the sell-by date stamped on your carton or jug. There may be different sequences of numbers depending on the brand, but the part of the sequence you’re looking for has a two-digit number followed by a hyphen and then another number, which could be two to four digits.
The two-digit number before the hyphen identifies the state.
The number after the hyphen identifies the specific processor. 

The results can be surprising or even unsettling.
A lot of milk is taking cross-country jaunts—more than ever before. In recent years dairy production has been quietly gravitating to a handful of states that house gigantic factory farms, and they’re driving small, locally-owned dairies out of business. Since 2001, the number of large dairy farms with 2,000 or more cows has more than doubled from 325 to nearly 800, while almost 35,000 small farms (500 or fewer cows) have disappeared. We used to get most of our milk from smaller farms, but not any more. The big dairies tripled their market share in the last decade.

Not just farm to table. Now it’s farm to fridge.
We’re all too familiar with the dark side of factory farming, from the mistreatment of animals to threats to public health. The virtues of local food systems are equally well-documented. Where is My Milk From? is welcomed for the way it sheds light on our notoriously opaque supply chain.

 

Posted in local foods, workplace | Leave a comment

The Coffee Break

image via Visual Photos

image via Visual Photos

 

The coffee break is a highlight of the workday 
The 2013 Workonomix Survey of workplace spending reports that 50 percent of the American workforce has a $20 weekly coffee habit. That’s a $1000 a year on 9 to 5 coffee. Most consider it money well-spent.
Younger workers (ages 18-34) spend almost twice as much on coffee during the workweek as their older colleagues ages 45+: $24.74 vs. $14.15; men outspend women: $25.70 vs. $15.00.

The coffee break is a vaunted worker tradition. Legend has it that the world’s first coffee break took place around 1000 A.D. in Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia. Long before the power and pleasure of the coffee plant had been discovered, a goatherd noticed his goats dancing around after eating its red berries. Following the goats’ lead, herders began indulging in the berries to stay awake during the long, boring stretches of watching the herds.

The coffee break first appeared in the U.S. in Stoughton, Wisconsin (home to the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival held every August) when the wives of 19th century Norwegian immigrants agreed to cover their husbands’ work shifts on the condition that they be allowed morning and afternoon breaks to go home to tend to household chores and brew up coffee. It was formalized as a workplace ritual in 1902 at the Barcolo Manufacturing Company of Buffalo, NY (rather appropriately, the manufacturer of Barcalounger recliners). In 1964 the coffee break was etched into U.S. labor history when negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the big three automakers nearly broke down over the practice. Other issues at those historic negotiations included health insurance, retirement benefits, and a 5% raise, but it was the coffee break that nearly brought about a strike. 74,000 workers at Chrysler came within an hour of walking off the job when the company relented and agreed to a 12 minute daily coffee break.

Did you know…
the espresso machine was invented in 1901 by an Italian factory owner as a way of speeding up his employees’ coffee breaks?  The first espresso machine, the Tipo Gigante, used a combination of steam and boiling water forced through coffee grounds to make a cup of coffee quicker than any other method in use.

Take a real break with the Coffee Break App. It darkens your computer screen for the duration, guaranteeing the pleasures of a work-free cup.

Posted in coffee, diversions, workplace | Leave a comment

The Subminimum Wage for Tipped Workers– how low can you go?

pennyonplate

 

The federal minimum wage is not rock bottom.
In the midst of the intense focus and national debate on the minimum wage, we don’t want to forget a group that falls even lower on the pay scale. There’s something called the subminimum wage for tipped restaurant workers, and by law it can be a shockingly stingy $2.13.

Increases to the federal subminimum wage haven’t even kept up with the standard minimum wage.
For most of the 20th century, the subminimum wage was pegged at 50% of the standard wage. In 1991, when the minimum wage was  set at $4.25, tipped workers received $2.13 per hour. In 1996 workers won a 90-cent per hour increase, but for the first time the subminimum wage was uncoupled from the standard wage and it was held at $2.13. It’s been stuck there for going on three decades. While the minimum wage has been increased four more times to its current $7.25 an hour, the subminimum wage, unchanged at $2.13, has been reduced to less than one-third of the minimum. Factor in the rising cost of living, and the buying power of the subminimum wage has effectively shrunk to $1.28.

Think about that $2.13 when you calculate a server’s tip. 
It’s called a gratuity, but the way the pay scale works there’s nothing gratuitous about tips. The subminimum wage is based on the assumption that tips will constitute the vast majority of a server’s earnings. As customers we think we’re rewarding good service, but in fact we’re subsidizing the ability of restaurant owners to pay a mere pittance to their employees. Tips are necessary just to get server compensation up to the minimum wage.

While wages are stuck at $2.13, tips are trending down. 
The recent recession and current recovery have kept a lid on restaurant menu prices and taken a toll on individual spending habits and corporate travel budgets. Tips are calculated on stagnant spending, and customers have gotten chintzy with that calculation.

Restaurants can also choose business practices that will erode tips.
Employers can keep payrolls down naming more of their workers to the subminimum wage category. And when those workers aren’t in typically tipped positions, it’s perfectly legal for restaurants to institute mandatory tip-sharing pools and take a cut from the servers to subsidize the paychecks of non-serving employees. They can also deduct the tip-related portion of their credit card processing fees from the tips given to servers. It’s a small amount from each tip (typically around 2%, and can go as high as 4%), but it adds up to nearly $1,000 a year for full-time workers. For a restaurant chain like Olive Garden, it can be upwards of $10 million in credit card fees that are skimmed from employee paychecks.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Servers
We have a seafood watch list, fair trade labeled imports, and we know when the eggs are cage-free. How about looking at the sustainability of restaurant workers?
There’s a measure in the Senate that will increase the minimum wage to $10.10. Let’s make sure that subminimum wage workers are included this time.

 

 

Posted in food business, restaurants, workplace | Leave a comment

Walmart Sells the Groceries While U.S.Taxpayers Feed its Employees

 

image via Eat Drink Politics

 

We all know that Walmart sits at the top of many lists.
It’s the world’s largest private employer, the world’s biggest retailer, and one of the most valuable companies in history.
Here in the U.S. it’s the largest seller of food, collecting one of every four dollars spent on groceries. It also rakes in more from food stamp recipients than any other retailer, hauling in nearly 40% of all food stamp spending.

Here’s another lists it tops:
Walmart workers lead the nation in government subsidies to the working poor.

Because of low wages and lack of covered benefits, each Walmart store costs taxpayers an average of $420,000 in annual government assistance, or about $943 per Walmart employee. With as many as 80% of store workers falling into the safety net, Walmart employees top the list of food stamp and Medicaid recipients in dozens of states, collecting a total of $2.66 billion in taxpayer assistance last year.

All that food, all that profit, all those food stamps. You might call it ironic; some call it the conservative circle of life; I call it reprehensible.

See your city, county, state, and federal tax dollars at work (for Walmart) with the interactive map found at Walmart Subsidy Watch.

Posted in food business, food policy, workplace | 1 Comment

Google and Facebook: The Best Company Cafeterias in America

The stereotypical computer geek works obsessively and eats crap, coding into the wee hours fueled by a diet of caffeine and junk food. If they think at all about food it’s to use a little multivariate calculus to optimize the pan dimensions for a box of brownie mix.

We got it half right. They do work long and strange hours, never saying no to a good all-night hackathon, but it’s not all instant ramen and Jolt cola. Not by a long shot.

Silicon Valley has a long tradition of feeding its employees. It dates back to the 1950’s when Hewlett-Packard was the place to work with its free snacks and company picnics. In the dot-com boom years of the 1980’s youthful entrepreneurs created a giddy post-college world of soda-stocked mini fridges and Friday beer blasts. These days it’s more cruise ship than dorm room, with midnight buffets of grilled-to-order kobe beef burgers and 3 AM French crêperie carts, and nobody does it bigger or better than the Valley titans Facebook and Google.

Google set the new standard when it hired the former chef to the Grateful Dead to oversee two dozen cafés and dining rooms scattered throughout its Mountain View campus. There’s tabletop hotpots and dim sum at the Asian-themed Jia, Basque-style tapas at Café Pintxo, and roasted black bass with parsley pesto and bread crumbs at the haute cuisine Café Seven, rumored to be the best of the Googleplex. There’s a classic American diner, a Mexican taqueria, a massive salad bar with count ’em three different roasted beet salads, and eateries dedicated to vegans and raw foodists. The grounds are planted with pick-your-own organic produce, and you can always pop out for a wheatgrass shot or roasted soybean snack mix from the numerous and strategically-located juice bars and kitchenettes. Free to all who work there, it’s estimated that Google spends an annual $7,500 to feed each employee.

Online, Facebook’s ‘like’ button is duking it out with Google+. In employment, the two compete fiercely for talent. And on their nearby campuses, Facebook is challenging Google’s long-standing claim to food service supremacy.

Facebook hired away one of Google’s top chefs to overhaul its previously humdrum cuisine. The kitchens have moved toward mostly organic ingredients from sustainable producers, and frequently turn mealtimes into themed extravaganzas like a recent Spanish lunch of braised rabbit with muscatel, cinnamon, and fresh cherries, Homer-pleasing deep-fried pork chops for a dinner based on The Simpsons TV show, and an all-chocolate menu with chile-ricotta-cocoa ravioli and asparagus with chocolate vinaigrette. There are ‘microkitchens’ scattered throughout the Facebook campus stocked like the 7-Eleven of a computer programmer’s dreams with Coke and Red Bull, Clif bars and fruit roll-ups, string cheese, Kit Kat bars, Reeses Cups, five different brands of yogurt, chocolate chip cookies, and Froot Loops. Serious Facebook foodies can explore the culinary world by interning in a company kitchen.

Part employee perk, part self-serving productivity booster
On-site gyms, dry cleaners, massages, car washes, haircuts—free and copious food is just one on a long list of fringe benefits. They all fit into the companies’ strategies to strip away anything that might get in the way of the overlong workday that’s part of the tech industry culture.

Don’t you want to know how you can eat there?

Make a friend.
Both Google and Facebook employees can bring guests.

Send a resumé.
Job interviews are nearly always scheduled around lunchtime so that the companies can flaunt this particular employee benefit.

Become a shareholder.
It just takes one share of Google stock (currently trading at about $650) to score an invite to their annual shareholder meeting. It’s held at the Googleplex, and shareholders are invited for that day to dine on campus.
Facebook’s stock is expected to begin trading in May. The  company has yet to disclose the specifics of its shareholder benefits.

 

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Coffee Shop Squatters Get Their Eviction Notice

What’s a graduate student (or freelancer or blogger) to do?
Coffee shops are cracking down on table squatters who make themselves a little too much at home.

You know the ones. For the price of a small coffee they’ll monopolize a café table for hours on end. They put their phones in chargers, connect to the free WiFi, and settle in for the workday. Why not? The bathrooms are clean and somebody left behind today’s newspaper with an empty crossword puzzle. They can nurse the cool dregs of that same cup of coffee for the better part of the day.

The squatters monopolize precious seating space, commandeer electrical outlets, and remain at the table for cell phone calls, and the coffee shops—chain and independents alike—are fed up. Some urban coffee shop operators have resorted to covering electrical outlets with padlocked plugs to limit your session to the duration of your battery life. Others have shrunk the size of café tables to tiny cups-only pedestals, or have removed tables entirely, replacing them with European-style stand up coffee bars.

The draconian strategies have outraged some long-time customers, and once you leave the high-traffic high-rent cities, these tactics simply don’t cut it. Suburban coffee drinkers are not there to escape a cramped city apartment. A welcoming atmosphere is the stock in trade for a local café.

Coffee shops are now looking to strike a gentler balance. In the Chicago area, Panera bakery-cafés request that WiFi usage be limited to 30 minutes during the lunch rush, while nearby Cafe Jumping Bean forgoes the self-policing and just powers down the wireless router at lunchtime. Others like San Francisco’s Café Abir hope to bypass freeloaders by only handing out the WiFi access password with purchases, and changing it every few hours to discourage lingering. Everyone in the business is waiting on Sony which is currently developing an electrical outlet that can read a user’s identity and set time limits on electricity use.

What’s fair and reasonable? Here’s a look at some different perspectives and opinions:

According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair, poll 32% of Americans think that a person who has purchased coffee should be able to use the shop’s free WiFi for as long as they want. 38% think that 30 to 60 minutes after they finish their drink is reasonable. Only 18% think you should use it only for as long as you’re drinking.

 

Posted in cyberculture, workplace | 3 Comments

The $1,000 Coffee Break

image via Visual Photos

Work perks.
Staffing firm Accounting Principals, which has just published its Workonomix Survey of workplace spending, found that 50 percent of the American workforce has a $20 weekly coffee habit, spending $1000 a year on workday coffee. Most consider it money well-spent.
Younger workers (ages 18-34) spend almost twice as much on coffee during the workweek as their older colleagues ages 45+: $24.74 vs. $14.15; men outspend women: $25.70 vs. $15.00.

The coffee break is a vaunted worker tradition. Legend has it that the world’s first coffee break took place around 1000 A.D. in Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia. Long before the power and pleasure of the coffee plant had been discovered, a goatherd noticed his goats dancing around after eating its red berries. Following the goats’ lead, herders began indulging in the berries to stay awake during the long, boring stretches of watching the herds.

The coffee break first appeared in the U.S. in Stoughton, Wisconsin (home to the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival held every August) when the wives of 19th century Norwegian immigrants agreed to cover their husbands’ work shifts on the condition that they be allowed morning and afternoon breaks to go home to tend to household chores and brew up coffee. It was formalized as a workplace ritual in 1902 at the Barcolo Manufacturing Company of Buffalo, NY (rather appropriately, the manufacturer of Barcalounger recliners). In 1964 the coffee break was etched into U.S. labor history when negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the big three automakers nearly broke down over the practice. Other issues at those historic negotiations included health insurance, retirement benefits, and a 5% raise, but it was the coffee break that nearly brought about a strike. 74,000 workers at Chrysler came within an hour of walking off the job when the company relented and agreed to a 12 minute daily coffee break.

Did you know…
the espresso machine was invented in 1901 by an Italian factory owner as a way of speeding up his employees’ coffee breaks?  The first espresso machine, the Tipo Gigante, used a combination of steam and boiling water forced through coffee grounds to make a cup of coffee quicker than any other method in use.

The Coffee Break App for Mac can be set to remind you when it’s break time. It darkens your computer screen for the duration, lighting up again when break time’s over.

 

 

 

 

Posted in diversions, phone applications, workplace | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Farm Volunteers: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

     image courtesy of Culinary Cory
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Budget travel. Eco-tourism. Agri-tourism.

If you’re looking for the kind of relaxation that comes from sitting on a beach, this is not for you. If you take your rusticity in small, controlled doses then I suggest you look elsewhere.

If you would like to make a genuine connection with the food you eat, gain some practical skills, and immerse yourself in the culture of the sustainable food movement, this is your opportunity. […]

Posted in sustainability, Travel, workplace | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Lunchtime: Death by Internet

The British newspaper The Telegraph recently published a list of 50 things that are being killed by the Internet.

The list itemized some of the bygone civilities that we will miss: handwritten letters (#12); the pleasures of flipping through a photo album (#15): or listening to a record all the way through (#3). There were relics we haven’t noticed in years: telephone directories (#8); footnotes instead of links (#47); and street corner prostitution (#45). And a few significant losses that could drive a person to Ludditism: punctuality (#5); memory (#13); privacy (#31); and enforceable copyright protection (#22). […]

Posted in Entertainment, shopping, workplace | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Ever feel like you missed your true calling?

2008_Bounty_logo

Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism commission, is hoping to bring attention to Oregon’s culinary landscape with an unusual promotion.

Seven lucky winners will each be awarded the opportunity to shadow one of Oregon’s culinary luminaries for a week-long, all expenses paid internship. […]

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